Highfill Infrastructure Engineering
A passion for service
Business View Magazine interviews Tyler Highfill of Highfill Infrastructure Engineering, as part of our focus on best practices of the civil engineering industry.
Highfill Infrastructure Engineering, PC is an engineering and consulting firm specializing in community and municipal water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure engineering. The company was founded in 2004 by Tyler Highfill, a licensed professional engineer, who had become somewhat disenchanted with the large international consulting firm where he had worked for ten years. “It was a lot of great training, a lot of experience, and good people,” he recounts. “But, as time went on, I became more and more frustrated with what I characterize as corporate bureaucracy, which was pulling me away from prime time and project time to deal with these administrative systems. I was reading about other large corporations and how they evolved and matured, or failed and died off. And what I realized was that my personality probably didn’t mesh with the corporate world, so I set out to do something different; to go work for a small company. I still wanted to do consulting services in the water and wastewater arena, but with a smaller firm, with the hopes of eliminating some of these bureaucracies. That led to starting this company, Highfill. I felt that we could create an environment that was better for our clients and our employees, and, in the end, provide a better service.”
In 2005, Highfill engaged Ray Cox, currently the company’s Vice President of Marketing, as a business partner. “We were a small company with three employees,” Highfill continues, “me, Ray and a part-time admin/bookkeeper, which was my wife; she was teaching during the day and doing the books at night. Ray and I had some early discussions about what we wanted the company to be. We brainstormed things like: Do we want to be the best water treatment plant people in the world? Do we want to have some special technical niche? As we talked through that, what we decided was what we wanted to do was to have people with a solid, technical skill set, but to provide those services in a way that was unmatched by anybody else. So, we set out to focus on providing high quality technical services in a very high level service model. We grew the company based on that model and over time, have ended up where we are now.”
“When we were brainstorming, early on, about what we wanted to be known for, we settled on this idea of providing the best customer service,” Cox adds. “And we wanted to be the firm that our clients thought of whenever they had an urgent need and somebody that they could rely on. That was our vision. What we really try to emphasize with our clients is that we put ourselves in their shoes. If I am their project manager, what kind of service is going to make me happy, and reduce my level of stress? And that’s the approach – to make it as stress-less and enjoyable a process as possible for our clients.”
Communications Coordinator, Allison Andrews, agrees. “Our company motto is ‘engineering is our profession; service is our passion.’ And that’s the message that we want to come across,” she states. “It’s not just rhetoric. People are hired based upon the idea that they’re service-oriented. It’s a really huge part of our culture.”
“A few years ago, when we were celebrating our tenth anniversary, we were doing some rebranding, and Allison shared the observation that she thought it ran a little deeper than customer service,” Cox remembers. “And I think she nailed it. Her observation was that all of our employees are involved in service, to some extent, outside of work. We have people doing mission work; people who are serving in the community; people that are coaching youth teams; all these avenues where people are giving of their time and talents. We call them ‘net givers,’ and these are the people we look for; people who are bent toward giving more than they’re interested in taking. Those are the folks that we look for when we’re hiring and Allison said that it’s a service culture and not just a customer-service culture. That’s when we developed that motto. And that is our key focus. And in order to provide that, we have to provide a safe, rewarding, and balanced work culture for our employees. They have to feel that they are given the tools and the environment in which they can do their best work, so, in turn, they can focus on taking care of clients.”
Both Cox and Highfill believe that the company’s culture is what gives this small firm of only 22 employees a competitive edge in a marketplace dominated by large national and international firms with thousands of workers. Today, almost all of the company’s work is in municipal water, wastewater, and stormwater utililites for cities, counties, and water districts, with a small percentage in industrial work, and an even smaller percentage in work for private developers. Highfill Infrastructure Engineering has four offices: a headquarters in Cary, North Carolina; an office in Wilmington, NC, which opened in 2005; one in Winston-Salem, added in 2015; and the newest office in Columbia, South Carolina, which opened in 2016.
“We’ve just begun work on our first real sizable project with the City of Columbia,” Cox reports. “They’re working in compliance with a consent decree that they are in with the EPA. One of the key projects to comply with that consent decree is developing rehabilitation projects for some of their larger sewers – 15 inches and larger in diameter – and we are on the team that is helping them on those projects. That’s an exciting opportunity for us, working to help them in that regard. These will be up to ten, multi-million-dollar projects when they’re all said and done.”
Highfill remarks that, going forward, the company will continue to penetrate the municipal marketplace, while expanding its geographic reach. “If you draw a two-hour radius circle around our four offices – that’s kind of the practical extent of our reach,” he explains. “So, our plan for expanding the business is to open more locations. And we’ve got some dots on the map, that when the right combination of people and opportunities come together, we’re going to open offices in those metropolitan areas, and, eventually, be able to cover, with this two-hour, radius circle, all of the high population areas in North and South Carolina. The reason we focus on these population centers is the ingredients for us for a successful geographic location are a vibrant and growing economic situation in that locality and aging infrastructure along with the growth. So there’s a need there for condition assessment, renovation rehabilitation, as well as new infrastructure to support the growth that’s going on. That’s why these population centers that are growing in the Carolinas are a good mix of those ingredients. So, our focus is geographic; we’re not looking to become industrial experts or land development experts, although I think we’ll continue to support industrial and private development, and land development. But our primary focus is in this arena that we think we’re pretty good at.”
In conclusion, Cox reasserts that in addition to high quality engineering efforts, the most important work performed by Highfill Infrastructure Engineering will always be its customer service: “Yes, we do good work in the trenchless technologies and other rehabilitation techniques, but that’s a given. If you’re not doing good work, your company is closed or on its way down. But you have to go beyond good work to be competitive; particularly a firm our size, which is competing with these national and international firms. And we think that passion and being driven to go the extra mile for our clients and treating them as part of our family and part of our team is that differentiator for us.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Highfill Infrastructure Engineering
WHAT: A civil engineering and consulting firm
WHERE: Cary, North Carolina
Bio-Nomic Services – www.bio-nomic.com
Bio-Nomic Services, Inc. is the premier provider of turnkey services in the Southeast to maintain critically important environmental infrastructure and help municipalities, utilities and industrial companies comply with environmental regulations.
We have a long track record of providing the expertise, equipment, technology, and trained field force to quickly, safely and reliably handle any project involving sewer system maintenance and soil/sludge remediation. And, as part of Carylon Corporation, we have the economy of scale, manpower, and equipment to efficiently handle projects of any size.
“I have stayed with HIGHFILL for 13 years because I appreciate the focus on service, whether for clients or the community, and because the working environment allows me to grow as an engineer based on my personal effort.”
– Paul Shivers, PE, HIGHFILL Senior Project Manager